Borscht-belt magician, summer fair conjuror, possessor of The Arcane Book of Spells and would-be Master-of-Black-Arts Dwayne Yeovil knelt over the incense burner, mumbling the cursed phrases in a language he didn't understand. A glow appeared above his bowed head. Dwayne continued his quiet chant, trembling with each foreign word, now aware of his shadow beneath him. The floor shook.
Another noise joined the chorus. A sharp rapping below his knees and a familiar whine shouting, "For crying out loud, Yeovil, be quiet up there. I'm trying to sleep! You are two noise violations away from expulsion. This counts as one."
"Archer," Dwayne muttered. "Try to boot me out of the condo association with a demon at my side." The light increased and Dwayne squeezed his eyes shut to utter the last word of the incantation. As suddenly as the cacophony had begun, all noise stopped. Then, Dwayne was gone with one last sound. Pffft. Poof. Vanished. No more Dwayne.
The smell was the first thing Dwayne noticed. Fetid breath washed over him. Then there came the voice.
"Who disturbs my meditation?" A hissing, guttural voice. But English.
Dwayne opened his eyes, stared up into the lizard face looming above him and vomited.
"Blasphemer. Stray from your pentagram and I'll gut you."
Dwayne squatted, sweating from the exertion of emptying his stomach. The spell-aiding elixir smelled even worse once ingested and regurgitated. He panted, "You are supposed to come to Earth. I summoned you."
The beast paced around him. "Save me from amateurs. Look, I have enough trouble with the guilds as it is, I don't need an interloper mucking the works. Begone. Now." The lizard drew itself up into a form Dwayne recognized as bipedal, clothed in silks, and lethal.
Dwayne stumbled erect. "You can't cross my pentagram." He hoped the standard rules of magic applied here. Wherever here was.
The being leaned close. "It is no physical protection. However, for me to so much as reach in...well, the forms, the filings and follow-up documentation stagger the spirit. Be thankful I'm here and not the witches. They denounce all paperwork."
The stars above were twinkling and Dwayne felt a chill. Other voices were nearing. A smaller, rounder lizard wearing a square cap and toting a large book pushed into the dim light.
It spoke, "What have you got here, Kalpen? A new apprentice?" He flipped open the tome. "Nothing in here about you applying for an additional mentor's licence."
The first lizard, Kalpen, replied, "Not mine, Guild-master Rogar. An intruder. I make no claim."
Rogar consulted his book again. "According to subsection 12(c) 'Any being coming into existence uninvoked shall be the responsibility of the first proximal mage.'" He slammed the book shut with finality.
"I claim no such first encounter. Bellinghart was between me and this thing when it appeared." He reached a taloned hand behind him and dragged forth a much smaller, paler lizard.
"You lie, master. You pushed me out of the way."
Kalpen shoved the smaller one towards Rogar who side-stepped the unwanted burden.
Rogar opened his book once more and was reading to himself when a second book-bearing official strode up.
"What's this then? Rogar, what the hells are you doing here? You have no jurisdiction this time of night."
Rogar studied the new arrival. "Gunthar of the Moon Guild. Look to the sky, moon's not up yet."
Dwayne yelled, "The demon was supposed to come to me. Not the other way 'round."
The discussion continued as though he wasn't present.
Gunthar pointed to his right. "Moon is up. It's hidden behind Bel's Tower." He pulled a circular calculator from his robe and spun the inset discs to his satisfaction. "The moon rose fourteen minutes ago. Begone."
Kalpen said, "That thing called me a demon. I want to bring suit."
Rogar and Gunthar stopped their argument long enough to stare at Kalpen. Rogar was the first to react. "Perfect, bring in the fucking Barrister Guild. We'll be tied up in red tape until this thing starves to death, its flesh rots and the bones become dust."
Dwayne began to move away. Kalpen moved in front of him. "Step outside your boundary and I'll gut you. Bellinghart, firespit."
The small one began hawking and throat clearing then gobbed a missile of flame at Dwayne's feet. Dwayne jumped but not beyond his pentagram.
"Again," Kalpen ordered. He turned to Gunthar. "It steps out, I gut. Problem solved?"
Gunthar pondered for a moment then agreed, "That would save us all a lot of trouble."
Rogar stepped in. "Trouble? Have you dealt with the Alien Funeral Guild lately? Bloody glacial."
Dwayne said, "Why don't you just send me back. Kalpen here is a wizard, right? Or I could try to reverse the spell that brought me here."
Gunthar said, "Possible. Providing you have a licence to perform said reversal. What's your name?"
"Yeovil, Dwayne." Dwayne strained to view Gunthar's book.
Gunthar ran a talon down page after page then slammed closed the embossed leather cover of his tome. "No record of you applying for or being granted permission to practice necromancy on Thereon. In this instance, transgression is death. Though I'm uncertain about another rather messy ritual live evisceration so early in the month." He looked to his guild competitor. "Simpler to eliminate him here and now. What say you, Rogar?"
"Agreed." He stepped to the outline of Dwayne's pentagram at the precise moment Bellinghart expectorated a second firespit. Rogar screamed and fell back, holding his hand under the other limb. "Burns. Bel's balls."
Kalpen laughed a dry rasp. "You can't even protect yourself from a Third-Class Minion. When's the last time you performed any real sorcery, guild-master? Forgot the basic rules of magic in your overseer duties? Those who can't do, teach. Those who do neither, supervise."
"Not so out of practice to accomplish this." Rogar pointed his damaged talons at the ground in front of Kalpen and mouthed, "Acch temor shoud. Vastel!"
Kalpen flinched and Dwayne closed his eyes against the sudden flash of flame. When he opened them, Kalpen was surrounded by a glowing ring next to Dwayne's own mystic prison.
"That will prevent you from running off while I return to the Guildhouse and discuss both your fates with my brethren. Gunthar, I suggest you do the same. One or both of our guilds have decisions to enforce here and I suggest we finish before daylight if we want to avoid embroiling the Sisterhood of the Sun."
"Agreed, Rogar. We'll reconnoiter in four hours time. Witches be damned, brother."
"Witches be damned, guildsman."
And with that, the two left the scene.
Dwayne tried scraping his sick to the edge of his temporary domain. "Now what?"
Kalpen glared through vertically-slit pupils. "Shut up. I'm trying to think."
Thirty minutes later, Kalpen was apparently still thinking. And carrying on a violent argument with himself.
Dwayne fidgeted. He hopped and flung his arms in the air, restoring circulation to his strained limbs.
Kalpen rose from his contemplation. "You've got to get out of here."
"But Rogar prohibited us from magicking, did he not? And that other guy didn't sound supportive either, not for you anyway."
"I have to live here. You don't. What can they do to you if you return to this Earth?"
Dwayne muttered, "I am plenty worried about what they can do if I fail."
Kalpen gave what Dwayne thought might have been an encouraging smile, though the dripping fangs ruined much of the effect. "You were accomplished enough to arrive on Thereon. I believe in you, Dwayne. I believe you can return to your world and I can return to my mission."
"What is that, exactly? Thereon seems to be a bit...over-governed?"
"Thereon used to be ruled by Magic. Now wizardry is ruled by process. I want to achieve a position high enough to subvert that state. The only way I can do that is through increasing my skill. You are an impediment. Now work your magic, Master Yeovil."
Dwayne closed his eyes and pictured the timeworn manuscript in his loft. Pages turned in his mind until he arrived at the one he sought. He drew a figure in the air in front of him and commenced his chant. "Argoll manchung indaptcorble slynn."
Crash. Kalpen was yelling. Dwayne opened his eyes. "What?"
Kalpen pointed a talon to a wisp of steam just outside of his ethereal barrier. "Bellinghart is gone. You've eliminated my assistant. He wasn't much, as acolytes go; a trifle insolent, but he was mine. If you don't get him back, you will become my new assistant. It's the rule. Rogar will approve on the spot if I promise to make your life miserable." Kalpen leaned as close to Dwayne as he could. "And short."
Dwayne flinched. "Umm, umm, umm I think I know what went wrong. Let me see." He closed his eyes again. He mouthed the incantation but did not utter the words aloud. "Right." He took a deep breath.
"Hurry up. If I know Rogar, he'll be back sooner than he promised Gunthar. You won't get another chance to save yourself."
Dwayne said, "It's my subconscious. I fear I may not have a home on Earth to return to." Archer could and would act in Dwayne's absence.
"Does your subconscious fear my dominion less?"
"Point taken." Dwayne pictured his body trapped within the pentagram. Out, he thought, I must be outside of the barrier. But on Earth. "Argoll manchung". So far so good, but the next part had been his error. "Adaptnorbal slynn." He opened his eyes, expecting to see the cozy surroundings of his earth apartment. Kalpen was beside him but not looking at him. He was staring behind Dwayne with something that looked like fear.
Dwayne turned and beheld a giant insectoid materializing where the unfortunate Bellinghart had stood. The form gained full opacity and clicked its head-mounted pincers. Dwayne and Kaplen simultaneously cried, "Hellgrammite!"
Dwayne took a step back. "Will that thing breach our barriers?"
"Bellinghart, listen to your master. Take the earthling." Kalpen crouched, his snout plastered against the ground.
The brownish giant bent in the middle and turned away from Kalpen to Dwayne. Metamorphosis had started, the brown exoskeleton burst, wings grew and fanned the atmosphere. Mandibles extended, menacing.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I can bring you back. I know what I did wrong now. Don't eat me." Dwayne mustered his strength and regained his feet. Trembling hands wove invisible figures. "Argoll manchung adaptnorbal slynn ethon Thereon."
The creature blazed blue light and transformed back into the small form of Kalpen's assistant, albeit a body-length and a half above the ground. Bellinghart, for all of his light weight, did not have wings and so fell promptly to the ground with a loud squeak. "Curse all witches. Master, what happened?"
Kalpen hissed, "The mighty Earth wizard reversed a spell." Kalpen spoke to Dwayne. "If you want to live out your full life, anywhere but here, you'll do the same to the spell that brought you thence. Holy crap, here comes Gunthar. No doubt the Moon-Guild wants control before it sets. And he has brought a thunder of guild masters with him."
Dwayne counted a dozen approaching figures, gesticulating and shouting. But most of all pointing. At him.
Kalpen yelled, "Now."
"I need to concentrate. Stop yelling at me." Dwayne sat, avoiding as much of his vomit as possible and mouthed the reversal.
"Cease all incantations immediately," the Moon-Guild Master roared.
Dwayne tried to ignore the noise. Then suddenly the voices ceased. He glanced up from his pentagram to see the guildsmen retreating with haste. A trio of newcomers approached, taller than the rest and slimmer. Rogar remained in front of Dwayne and Kalpen and said something to the recent arrivals. The lead figure wagged a talon at him without breaking stride. Rogar screamed and collapsed, his forelegs clutched between his hinds.
Kalpen said, "Quickly, they will enter your penta..."
Dwayne was sick to his stomach before he even opened his eyes. Then to great relief saw the familiar confines of his apartment. A loud cough and cloying odor informed him he was not alone. He whirled to view Kalpen emptying whatever the Thereon native had last eaten on Dwayne's handwoven Nepalese carpet.
Dwayne gasped, "What were they?"
Kalpen blew spittle as he coughed, "Witches. Damn them." He crossed himself. The Thereon native took stock of the surroundings and pointed at Dwayne. "You incompetent bungler. You miserable excuse for a mage. I wouldn't let you carry Bellinghart's turds in your bare hands." The lizard being reached an arm around Dwayne and dragged him close. "You are no longer protected. Time to revenge myself."
"Wait, I can send you back."
Kalpen's voice continued to rise, "Back? In case you didn't notice, I'm now in deep excrement, thanks to your over-eager transport reversal."
A banging on Dwayne's door interrupted. "That's it, Yeovil. You have destroyed my sleep for the last time. Open this door or I will knock it down on top of you."
"What's that?" Kalpen turned to face the door.
"Archer. Downstairs neighbour, despotic condo chair and all around asshole. Doesn't appreciate the black and white arts."
Kalpen released Dwayne and strode to the door. He opened it. "Problem?"
Archer gasped, "What the what?" He backed away. "No problem." He peered around the reptilian beast. "Your days here are over, Yeovil. No pets over ten pounds. That's the rule. I'm convening the board." He scurried down the stairwell.
Kalpen gestured a clawed hand and a cloud of mist followed the retreating man. A strangled cry echoed up the stair. Kalpen slammed the door shut. "Now it's your turn."
"Wait-wait-wait. I can help. I think."
Kalpen flexed his talons. "Talk fast, my patience is short."
You have patience? Dwayne wondered, but not aloud. He retreated across the room. "You said you needed power. Power to combat the red tape that constrains Thereon's foundation of magic. The traditional foundation, before the bureaucrats took over."
"True enough. But I can't accomplish anything stripped of my status by two of the guilds for a start."
Dwayne lifted a large leather-bound book from the coffee table. "Here is your answer. The contents of this book transported me to your world. Mistakenly, but that's the potency in here. Power you could command much better than I." He caressed the cover. "Millenia of research and spells."
"Maybe I'll take it from your dead hands."
Dwayne clutched it to his chest. "No, it has to be given freely." That wasn't true but Dwayne thought it sounded legitimate.
"Why would you give it up, if so valuable?"
Dwayne shook his head. "Are you kidding? Luck more than skill got me back. And those witches. Scared me straight. No more big magic. From now on, I'll stick with shtick. Deal? Wizard to wizard?"
Kalpen scratched a claw across the cover of the book. "Open it."
Dwayne complied, holding it tight just the same.
Kalpen said, "It will take me some time to study and learn the full meanings." He looked around the room. "Your quarters are small but will suffice. I agree."
"Only long enough to learn the language."
Dwayne thought about the momentary thrill he had experienced arriving on Thereon, then the fear of being lost. He held the book out, "I give this to you, Kalpen, of my free will. Good magic."
Kalpen accepted. "Curse all witches."
"Curse all witches," Dwayne repeated.
Three days later, Kalpen was ready to depart.
Dwayne crouched in the darkness, as removed as he could get from the large mage while the incantation proceeded.
Kalpen's form became clothed in a halo of blue light. His scaled hide glistened different colors then turned transparent and he was gone.
"Write me," Dwayne muttered when he was certain his visitor had departed for good. "when you arrive in Thereon."
Dwayne returned from one of a seemingly endless stream of children's parties, pockets stuffed with booking requests and ten dollar bills. He chuckled to himself, "The little freaks are probably still hunting for the rabbit-that-never-was." A notice on the floor inside his door diverted his thoughts from Yeovil The Magicman's busy itinerary. He picked it up and read aloud, "Notice of Meeting. Motion to appoint Dwayne Yeovil to the Board due to the sudden departure of Melvin Archer (medical). Your attendance is mandatory. Saturday noon. Respectfully, Highland Towers Condo Association."
"Well", he mused, "This should guarantee my continued residency."
He put the notice on his couch and saw a second paper, this one in the center of his small living room. "More meetings?" No, this one was different, yellowed. It felt rough against his fingertips Parchment?
He read the lines scratched by an inhuman hand. "Master Yeovil, greetings. Most is well. My new found skills, some credit may go to your book, serve me well. Perhaps too well. I am now the head of the Curse-All-Witches Guild. It's all meetings, but once I get through the next six months of backed-up 'red tape', as you call it, my plan to return Thereon to 'magic first' shall proceed. Have to run, late for a meeting against my counterpart from the Castrate-All-Wizards Witchguild. Fond Regards, Kalpen. Guild Master."
Dwayne carried the paper into his kitchen. He pulled a button magnet that read "Bureaucracy Is The Route Of All Devils" from his refrigerator door to attach Kalpen's note. A bright notice fluttered down and he retrieved it. "Oh yeah, the Calypso Fair. My unicycle juggling act always brings in the dough. Looks hard but so simple when you prepare a mild temporal deceleration spell."
Dwayne stared at Kalpen's words and shook his head. "I'm disappointed you've wasted my gift. You sold out."
This story originally appeared in eFantasy v1n5.